Wednesday 11 December 2019
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US officials tell impeachment probe of concerns over Trump Ukraine call

WASHINGTON: US lawmakers heard on Tuesday from two direct witnesses to the Ukraine call at the heart of the impeachment inquiry of Donald Trump, both of whom said in open session for the first time they were surprised and concerned by the president s demands for investigations of Joe Biden.One of the witnesses, Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, said he was so alarmed by what he heard on the call that he reported the inappropriate discussion to lawyers of the National Security Council out of a sense of duty. The other witness, Jennifer Williams, a foreign service advisor to Vice President Mike Pence, said Trump s reference to Biden in the July 25 call with Ukraine s Volodymyr Zelensky was unusual in that it delved into domestic US politics.Williams and Vindman, a senior NSC official, were among four key witnesses testifying on the third day of impeachment hearings into whether Trump abused the power of his office.Democrats are seeking to show that Trump leveraged nearly $400 million in military aid and a White House meeting with Zelensky to extract a commitment from the new Ukrainian leader to probe former vice president Biden and son Hunter, who served on the board of a Ukraine energy firm. It is improper for the president of the United States to demand a foreign government investigate a US citizen and a political opponent, Vindman told the House Intelligence Committee hearing. This would have significant implications if it became public knowledge and it would be perceived as a partisan play. The Trump-Zelensky call has become the fulcrum of the investigation.Williams, a career foreign service officer detailed to Pence s office, also listened to the call. I found the July 25th phone call unusual because ... it involved discussion of what appeared to be a domestic political matter, she told the hearing. The reference to Biden sounded political to me. The open testimony amplifies the depositions that both officials delivered during the closed-door portion of the inquiry.Republicans had savaged the secrecy of the closed-door sessions, and have also sought to discredit several of the witnesses who have defied White House orders not to speak with investigators.On Monday, in a letter to Republican investigators, Senator Ron Johnson made the unsubstantiated accusation that it is entirely possible that Vindman has never accepted Trump as a legitimate president.Later on Tuesday, Kurt Volker, the former special US envoy to Ukraine, and National Security Council official Timothy Morrison was to testify.The House investigation could conceivably wrap up this week, with evidence prepared to be sent to the House Judiciary Committee to draw up articles of impeachment.Trump s impeachment by the Democratic-controlled House, which appears increasingly likely, would place Trump on trial in the Senate, where a Republican majority could protect him from removal.


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